“Uganda needs more women in leadership positions, now more than ever. We cannot allow anyone else to take up the Office of Speaker unless it is a woman.” The Dokolo Woman MP, Cecilia Ogwal, said this on the floor of Parliament, campaigning (indirectly) for Speaker Kadaga.
Cecilia Ogwal, recently re-elected, has been a Member of Parliament since 1996. She came into office after the introduction of affirmative action for Youth, Women and Disabled in Parliament with the 1995 Uganda Constitution, Section 32 “Affirmative Action in Favor of Marginalized groups”. The Affirmative Action policy increased the number of women in the legislative house. The recently ended 9th Parliament comprised of 375 members with 129 (34.4%) women MPs. It has had both outstanding women and those you could give as reasons to why “special interest groups should be abolished”.
There has been a steady rise in women participation in politics. Elections for women can be traced back to the establishment of the National Resistance Council (NRC) in 1989. In that election, 34 women were elected to “women’s seats.” Aili Mari Tripp has written extensively about women in politics in Uganda and she recorded that some were also elected on the “regular” seats, making the total composition of women in the NRC 17% (41 seats). During the 6th Parliament (1996-2001), there were 39 districts in Uganda; accordingly 39 women were elected as district Woman MPs. The 7th Parliament (2001-2006) came in with 17 new districts, securing women with at least 56 seats in Parliament.
The 9th Parliament with 34% women, increased from the 31% in the 8th Parliament, but is still lower than the parity target set by the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
As the new MPs are sworn in, we want to recognise the women of the 9th Parliament who stood out. They include women like Forum for Democratic Change’s Alice Alaso. She has also served as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and was the first woman to hold the position since the creation and establishment of the committee in the 7th Parliament. Under her leadership, PAC submitted an Auditor General’s report covering three financial years, combating the backlog gap of accountability committees.
And of course, among the outstanding women, there is the Speaker of Parliament and Woman MP for Kamuli district, Rebecca Kadaga. She has successfully branded herself as the women’s speaker, to the extent that if an MP wants assured time on the order paper, they raise issues concerning women.
Kadaga is also among the longest serving members of Parliament, and considered among the most powerful women in the country.
Under her leadership, Kadaga has handled controversial debates like the famous oil debate and the ruling in favor of the rebel MPs when she refused to evoke the powers of her office to dismiss the MPs expelled from NRM. She also chaired the debate on, Cerinah Nebanda’s death that cast light on the 9th Parliament, awarding it the title of a Parliament that was pro-people. The Speaker is also famous for her notorious “Christmas presents” to Ugandans like the nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act. Her homophobia got international stage in Canada in 2012 during an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly.
Rebecca Kadaga will return to the next Parliament, having been re-elected in the 2016 Parliamentary elections as Kamuli Woman MP. Many have asked why she continues to contest under affirmative action, when as a “women’s speaker” she would have paved way for more young women to contest and for women to have enough power and influence to contest in open seats.
Dokolo Woman MP Ogwal has been in the house as long as Speaker Kadaga. She has served as a member of the Pan-African Parliament and is the current Opposition Chief Whip.
Ogwal is commonly referred to as “mama” by the other members of Parliament. This former Miss Uganda does not sugar-coat issues when she takes the floor to address the House. Recently, she spoke out against a supplementary budget request on payouts in court awards, observing that the list looked selective. In 2013, Ogwal stormed out of Parliament in protest of the Public Order Management Act, together with the Leader of Opposition. (Soroti Woman MP Angelina Osege was given a three-day suspension for “shouting the most” during the debate over the bill.)
Other vocal opposition MPs like Betty Nambooze graced the house. Nambooze is well-known for her stubborn will, clearly shown by the number of times she has stood her ground and ended being arrested. She is not shy when it comes to publicly criticizing the 9th Parliament as evidenced in her article in The Observer last year:
“Its worst crime, in my opinion, was to ride on a moral ticket, start off with a lot of aptitude and robustness and go cold within a few months. This, coupled with our failure to reverse even a single uncomplimentary action done by both the 7th and 8th Parliaments, has made Ugandans to conclude that politicians are one and the same – self-seekers.”
Nambooze verbally protested police brutality and the undressing of women by the Uganda Police, on the floor. She was supported by Speaker Kadaga and MP Betty Amongi.
Other vocal women in opposition include Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman MP), Betty Amongin (Oyam South), Alice Alaso, Franca Judith Akello (Agago Woman MP), Aol Betty (Gulu Woman MP) and Bako Christine Abia (Arua Woman MP).
Amoding Monica represents the female youth and has a distinct ability to articulate issues on teenage pregnancies, and the Youth Capital fund. Youth Minister, Evelyn Anite, will be a hard one to forget for presenting the petition for the sole candidature of President Yoweri Museveni during an NRM caucus while she knelt.
There was also the woman who wore the most hats, Janet Kataha Museveni- she is First Lady, MP for Ruhaama County (Ntungamo district) and also Minister for Karamoja. Perhaps owing to her several commitments, she rarely attended the plenary proceedings. She is usually a passive presence, although she once called the oil debate “useless” in 2011, a remark that the Speaker forced her to withdraw. She will not be returning to the legislative house, following her surprising decision not to seek re-election.
Women “inheriting” seats in Parliament
Despite many cultural issues with inheritance by women, voter sympathy had several women take seats in parliament. The most widely-reported was Proscovia Alengot, who contested for Usuk County (Katakwi district) MP seat after it fell vacant when her father, Michael Oromait, passed on. At 19, she was Africa’s youngest MP. She is said to be the niece of Amuria Woman MP, Susan Amero.
Butaleja Woman MP Florence Nebanda Andiru also inherited her seat after the tragic death of her sister, Cerinah Nebanda. Florence Andiru, who changed her name to add “Nebanda”, said one of the reasons she won in the by-election was because “I was Nebanda’s sister”.
Following the death of Bukomansimbi Woman MP, Susan Namaganda, her sister Veronica Nanyondo was elected to serve in the position in the 10th Parliament.
It would seem voter sympathy transcends any other feelings on women inheriting. Or perhaps property is not equal to well-paying political positions?
A study “Mapping the Substantive Representation of Women in the Ugandan Parliament”, indicated that though there were more women in the 9th Parliament than the 8th Parliament, the latter passed more gender specific bills.
“One of the reasons for this shift was because while the 8th Parliament dealt with women in need of protection (victims of trafficking, domestic violence, FGM), the 9th Parliament tackled issues of marriage and divorce in which women were portrayed as equals and which often pitted the interests of women against the interests of men,” the study noted.
Women MPs performance can be rated by one’s participation on the floor of Parliament. Some members of Parliament like the Speaker Kadaga, Florence Mutyabule (Namutumba Woman MP), Alice Alaso, Rose Akol (Bukedea Woman MP), Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman MP), Syda Bbumba (Nakeseke County North), Betty Nambooze and many others have not only contributed on the floor of Parliament but have been part of petitions and various motions.
The 9th Parliament also held the first-ever women’s Parliament, where local women were invited to take part in a plenary session presided over by the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga. Women used the platform to address several issues that directly affect women, and also demanded the passing of the Marriage and Divorce Bill 2009. This was the first time the house was occupied by only women discussing national issues, a huge achievement.
However, if rated on legislation concerning women and women issues, I would say the women of the 9th Parliament have failed to achieve this.
The 9th Parliament has had women step down from office due to corruption scandals, for example Kabakumba Masiko (Bujenje County, Masindi District), and Syda Bbumba, were both named in huge corruption scandals forcing them to resign from their ministerial posts.
A report published by Daily Monitor newspaper in 2013 showed the performance of women in the 9th Parliament based on the number of times they spoke. They rated worst performers as those who had never said a word, poor performers as those who spoke less than five times, fairly good as those who spoke five to fifteen times, good performers as those who spoke sixteen to thirty times, very good performers as those who spoke thirty-one to fifty times and the best performers as those who spoke more than fifty times.
Those that have spoken 50 times and more
Betty Amongi (Oyam South)
Kabakumba Matsiko(Bujenje County)
Irene Muloni (Bulambuli)
Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Dsitrict)
Alice Alaso (Serere District)
Nankabirwa Ruth (Kiboga District)
Mary Karooro Okurut (Bushenyi District)
Kamateeka Joova (Mitooma)
Franca Judith Akello (Agago District)
Jessica Alupo (Katakwi District)
Namayanja Rose (Nakaseke District)
Margaret Baba diri (Koboko District)
Ibi Ekwau (Kaberamaido District)
Bintu Jaria (Masindi District)
Cecilia Otim Ogwal (Dokolo District)
Rebecca Kadaga (Kamuli District)
Beyond plenary, women have served on Parliamentary Committees with some even as chairs: Sylvia Namabidde (Chairperson- Education Committee), Komuhangi Margaret (Chairperson- Gender Committee) and Benny Mugwanya (Chairperson- Defense Committee).
Despite the vocalness of some women in Parliament, women participation has not yet broken through the barriers and the men remain with the center stage. The number of women who competed with men fell from 16 in 2006 to 11 in 2011; and of the 129 women MPs, 112 represent districts as a result of affirmative action. What would happen in the absence of the policy? After twenty years of the policy, can an evaluation show substantial progress? While many women had hoped that the Woman MP district seat would be a training ground for more women to enter Parliament (and politics), those that gain the seat find it safer to keep it than to compete with a man even after two or three terms. In the house, they have failed to push for more pro-women legislation, leaving bills like the Marriage and Divorce Bill to collect dust on shelves in the Parliament.
We will continue to remember, and celebrate, the brave women that represented and spoke for us during the 9th Parliament. I will dearly miss some of them, most especially MP Alice Alaso who was the easiest to approach, very articulate and constantly ready to answer questions. I wait to see what the women of the 10th will have in store for us.